This is the thirteenth of thirty-one installments of Donna’s Cancer Story, which will appear daily in serial format through the month of September to recognize Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Each post will cover one month of Donna’s thirty-one months of treatment.
The first day of this month was Easter, which seemed fitting. It was spring, the season of symbolic rebirth. To watch Donna during this period was to watch a flower bloom, a tree green, the grass sprout. You know that first day of spring when you look up and the trees are covered with leaves and you realize, “It’s spring!” That’s what every day was like during this month. I never stopped being surprised that the little sprite in front of me was Donna and that she was out of treatment.
There was a fine balance between learning to trust in her health and reeling over her vulnerability. It was easiest to enjoy the girl in all her glory and feel the fear, the ever present, never ending fear, away from her. We had just transitioned Donna back to her own bedroom after months of her sleeping with us. While we missed her and waking up to her little perfect face, the bit of space was useful to have some time together to talk and think about what had happened to our family.
As Donna’s immune system matured we were allowed more freedoms, including being able to enroll in a story/art course with other toddlers. Donna really liked these classes and had a great time. She was a bit more clingy than her peers, but was attentive to the reading and really liked to get messy with the art materials. This class was the first opportunity Jeremy and I had to see Donna in the company of her peers without cancer. Our Donna, our beautiful girl with her peach fuzz and slim frame, was very different than the other kids we were seeing. While they were jumping and running and shouting, she was reflective, empathic with the story characters, climbing on her parents. She could not run or jump or push the hair out of her eyes. That hit us hard and was the undeniable evidence of some of what cancer had cost our girl. What it hadn’t cost her was her keen smarts or sweet nature. Those were two of Donna’s cardinal traits that cancer did not fiddle with.
Donna is mugging for the camera in this shot at our local park. Parks were a boon throughout Donna’s many treatments as she could be outside with others when she could not be inside with them. The other parents looked at us funny when we sanitized the swings and slides before Donna used them, but how were they to know what Donna had been through in her short life? To them we were just germophobes.
Another place we were allowed to go again was the market. Donna was my girl, keeping me company at the grocery store, but only with precautions. We were advised to only go at off peak hours and the cart required a serious wipe down before Donna could sit in it. Again with the looks. There was nothing that could be done. You do what you need to do for your kids.
With Donna, though, the looks and worries fell by the wayside. She was the best medicine for whatever ailed you. Even something as simple as shopping for groceries became an opportunity to be charmed by the cutest little cancer survivor you would ever meet. With spring arriving and the weather improving, Donna helped us appreciate all that was right in the world. One day in the parking lot at the market, I wiped the cart down, put Donna in it, then turned to get my bag out of the trunk. I heard her laughter, turned back, and saw that the strong wind had started to roll the cart away from me. I ran to catch it, but Donna said, “No, Mama, no hands, just the wind!” She loved the freedom and the thrill and the unexpected movement. This started a tradition that carries on with Mary Tyler Son to this day. Entering and exiting the store, I run with the cart then push it ahead so he can feel the wind and freedom himself. He loves it just as much.
I wrote in the journal this month that being with Donna was like being with a Zen guru. She was completely open to and aware of the beauty around us in everyday life. “We are out in the beautiful world!” “Look at the sun! Look at the clouds! Look at the trees!” It was impossible not to feel her joy when you were in the midst of it. We saw with new eyes, Donna’s eyes, and it was lovely.